Peak(s):  Copeland Mtn  -  13,176 feet
Date Posted:  03/29/2019
Modified:  03/31/2019
Date Climbed:   09/15/2002
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Climbing Copeland Mountain  

Copeland Mountain bears two different names on the Park maps I own. On the newer maps it is named Mount Copeland. On the older maps it is named Copeland Mountain. Gerry Roach and I both prefer the name on the older maps. Mount Copeland just doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds a bit stuffy and pretentious, even foreign. Copeland Mountain itself is none of those things. It is a down-to-earth, nitty-gritty just plain mountain, not a peak, and certainly not a mount, to me. I think the mountain is a fine climb, too. Teresa Gergen thought the mountain was boring, because it did not sufficiently challenge her climbing skills. It is not boring to me. It provides especially fine views into the lesser known, less frequently visited far southern reaches of the Park, and also into Indian Peaks Wilderness Area just south of Rocky. Most of the approaches to any peak or mountain in this area truly worthy of providing challenges to a mountaineer are long ones. For that reason alone there are no “easy” peaks in this area.

I have climbed Copeland Mountain twice, both times from the big parking lot at the main Wild Basin trailhead by what Roach identifies as the Class 2 Northeast Slopes Route. which passes around Ouzel Lake. At Ouzel Lake the approach ends, and the climb begins. Ouzel Lake is a bit over 5 miles from the Wild Basin parking lot and Ranger Station. Reaching the summit from Ouzel requires a climb of maybe another mile and a half, so this is a little more than a 13-mile round-trip day hike. If you want to hike in the first day, climb the second, there is a back country campsite at Ouzel Lake. The trail ends at the lake. The climb up the mountain requires a rather lengthy bushwhack up a densely treed slope until timberline, when the rest of your route up the tundra to the rocky summit suddenly becomes apparent.

To add to your enjoyment of the climb, the hike in to Ouzel is a waterfall hike. You encounter your first waterfall, Copeland Falls, about a half mile from the trailhead. Copeland Falls won’t impress you much during most of the hiking season when stream flow becomes diminished. But let me tell you, Copeland Falls is certainly impressive at the height of spring run-off when stream volume is at its highest! Copeland Falls then becomes a roaring torrent of raging white-water foam. The roar becomes so loud that it becomes difficult to talk close to the falls because you can’t hear anything over its great roar.

There is a danger of which you should be aware at this time of year as well. The roaring water puts up a lot of mist, and the mist dampens all the nearby rock further away than you might imagine, and all that dampened rock becomes very slick, and it would be very easy to take a long slide over and down the mist-slickened rock and into the raging water. Once you hit the ice-cold snowmelt current, it would pull you under. You would not be able to escape it. Keep back! Hold all your companions back, too. Look at the falls from a safe distance, even further away than you might believe safe. Let me show you Copeland Falls during spring run-off. There are both an upper and a lower falls. The upper falls is the most dramatic.

Upper Copeland Falls During Spring Snowmelt and Runoff, Spring 1999.

Me at Upper Copeland Falls, Spring, 1999.
Don't ever do this. Way too close. 10 feet back night be safe., might not. I am a bit knuckle-headed
and have to learn things the hard way by making mistakes. This was a mistake.

On this climb. Unlike the climb of Mount Alice from Boulder Grand Pass, you do want to take the left turnoff about 2 miles from the trailhead at the trail sign directing you to Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. The difference between a cascade and a waterfall is that a cascade is simply a tumble of water down a rocky slope over boulders. The boulders break the stream flow and create whitewater. A true waterfall usually takes a plunge through the air off a cliff. Ouzel Falls does this. It is one of the biggest and most beautiful falls in the Park, and is truly worth hiking up the short, signed spur trail that takes you to the falls. Other waterfalls, like Ribbon Falls below McHenry’s Peak, don’t fall at all. They just slide down smooth rock faces without boulders to break them up. Those falls are worth viewing, too.

Calypso Cascades.
A bridge on the trail conveniently passes over Calypso. This is a view through the bridge at Calypso.

Calypso Cascades During snowmelt and Runoff.

The Best Photo of Calypso I Ever Took. Taken With My Good 35mm Pentax SLR.
See the difference between this and my pocket Pentax IQZoom? Obvious.
By the time I took this photo, I had learned a bit about composition and perspective.

Ouzel Falls at Low Flow, Late Summer From Below.

Rainbow Through Mist and Water Spray, Early Summer, Ouzel Fallls.
I love rainbows about as much as I love mountains!

Ouzel Falls At Full-Flow, Spring Snowmelt and Runoff.
Can't you just imagine the roar?

Water flow over both cascades and waterfalls varies greatly through the year. Both falls and cascades are always their biggest and best selves during peak spring snowmelt and runoff. A popular phrase spoken by women comes to mind here. They sometimes say to each other, knowingly: “So many men! So little time!” I guess, regarding Rocky’s waterfalls, I would change that phrase to read “So many waterfalls! So brief spring snowmelt and runoff!” Water flow diminishes through the summer and into fall, but sometimes is augmented by sudden heavy local rainstorms.

I want to show to you again at this point a photo I first used in my trip report on climbing Chief’s Head Peak. In this photo, I pointed out the burn scar in the distance beyond the North Ridge Route to Chief’s Head. What you see in the photo is the long, narrow wind-driven dash the 1978 Ouzel Forest Fire was making toward Allenspark before firefighters exerted every heroic effort they could to contain the fire before it threatened structures and lives. They succeeded, luckily. The fire was first ignited by a lightning strike near Ouzel Lake, which is the beginning of the climb up Copeland Mountain. The fire first burned significant terrain around Ouzel Lake before the wind caught it up and propelled its mad race in a beeline toward that picturesque and historic little community south of Estes. To reach Ouzel Lake, the trail passes right through the burn scar.

Ouzel Fire Burn Scar Over Mount Orton and the North Ridge below Chief's Head Peak.

I would like to write a few paragraphs here about how forests heal themselves from fire. You can study forest recovery yourself when you pass through this burn scar on your climb of Copeland Mountain, just as I did in 2002. Significant additional recovery has continued since I took these photos during my 2002 climb.

The first thing I wanted to mention pertaining to forest regrowth is the importance of Fireweed. Fireweed is hardly a weed at all because it is actually a beautiful flower that performs an incredibly important and valuable service to a burned forest. When a fire burns down a forest, Fireweed is usually the first plant species to establish itself afterwards. The establishment of Fireweed is important because the primary danger remaining after the fire itself is the unstable soil left behind, soil rich in organic nutrients that plants need. Without stabilization, the rich soil simply washes and blows away with any considerable rain and wind. Rain on fire -damaged soil doesn’t soak in, it runs off, creating floods and mudslides. Fireweed is called a weed because it proliferates rapidly, given the opportunity, and its proliferation is exactly what begins soil stabilization. One Fireweed plant produces an incredible number of tiny seeds with silky threads. And the silky threads act as parachutes so vagaries of the wind can quickly carry the tiny seeds through the entirety of the burned area.

Fireweed in Flower. The Flowers Develop Into Long, Thin Seedpods Full of Small Seeds.

Fireweed Seedpods Breaking Open, Late Summer , Releasing Seeds to the Wind.

Other species follow Fireweed by their own means over time. Some root structures buried deeply enough can survive fire, and these roots begin to work themselves back up toward the soil surface, and eventually emerge in their diversity as shrubs and trees. Deep grass roots can survive sometimes, too, especially protected beneath rocks.

At this point in time, the concept of a “Climax Forest” comes into play. Climax Forests vary widely. A climax is the end, the high point, the culmination of a process. Some Climax Forests are more useful to animals (among which we humans are just one strand in the web of life) than others. After forest fires in Colorado, the Climax Forest usually becomes Lodgepole Pine.

Lodgepole Pine cones can survive forest fires. In fact, fires actually help the Lodgepole cones open., and spill seed. Lodgepole pines grow quickly, and densely, so close together they block any sunlight from reaching any other plants below the Lodgepole canopy. The forest that burned down around Ouzel Lake in 1978 was a climax Lodgepole forest because this area had burned before, centuries ago, and in the forest that regrew long ago, and then burned in 1978, Lodgepole had predominated.

Those of us who understand the value of forests to animals hope a more varied forest will regrow in the Ouzel burn this time, and in 2002 I saw some evidence of that happening. We want forests filled with the most diverse species of plants possible, because diverse forests are the most useful to all animals, and can support a full spectrum of them. We want forests with flowers, berry bushes, deciduous trees, many species of pine, fir, spruce. We want much light penetrating a varied forest canopy, so that all species can grow and thrive in the sunshine and rain together, kind of like a diverse and harmonious human community.

In 2002, I noticed the regrowth of willow and aspen within the Ouzel burn scar. These deciduous trees are in a race for sunlight with other tree species. We want all species to “win” the race as equals, not just one, not just Lodgepole again. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to write about the best kind of forest regrowth and healing. It’s now time for photos of the trail to Ouzel and the burn scar itself, and then of my climb of Copeland, with also a little bit of narrative about that.

That's Me. 2002 Copeland Climb. Trail to Ouzel Lake Through the Burn Scar.
Camera on a stump, auto-timer. Yes, I am a tree-hugger. When you start climbing peaks, you start admiring nature.
After that, you start reading downright radical essays and books, like Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature" and Thoreau's
"Walden Pond." And even later, you can't help but become an environmentalist. By the way. I am not only hugging a
fire-burned pine, I am standing inside one, almost totally surrounded by its fire-hollowed shell. Rain and time have
washed all the charcoal away, left the most enduring and strong wood. So we both stand, beat up a bit, but still
standing, just the same.

Trail to Ouzel Lake (That White Band) Passing Through the Burn Scar. Downed Trees. Copeland Mountain
Beyond., Above.
The wind will continue to knock down standing fire-burned trees until they are all gone. They will all
eventually disappear, rot, become nutrients in the soil. and as Walt Whitman was fond of
saying, "We will all become leaves of grass."

My Last Fire Scar Photo. Lots of Lodgepole Pine. But Also Lots of Aspen, Shrubs. Let Us Hope for the Aspen, and a Richly Diverse Forest.
Mt. Alice Right.

First View of Ouzel Lake.
The best route up Copeland is around the lake's left shore, then a bushwhack up the treed slope to the left, almost to the skyline at left edge. Then you
cut right up the tundra to the summit.

At the Outlet of Ouzel.

Mahana Peak from Ouzel's Outlet.

Copeland Above Ouzel.

The North Ridge, Pagoda, Longs and Meeker From My Bushwhack Up the Treed Slope.
Ouzel and An Unnamed Smaller Lake Below.

Looking Down. Trees Thinning Near the Top of the Treed Slope. Burn Around Ouzel Down Below.

Treeline. The Route Right Comes Into View. Final Slope Up Out of Photo, Right.

Climbing the Slope Up. Burn Scar Center.

Ouzel Lake Below. Mt. Orton and North Ridge Above.

Sandbeach Lake to the Right Below Mt. Orton, The North Ridge, Longs Group.

Eventually I climbed up to this view of a rock wind shelter and a precariously balanced cairn on Copeland's summit. I didn't need the wind shelter. It was a beautiful warm day without wind.


To the north, the summit of Copeland offers a fine view of Alice, McHenry's (see the Notch?). Chief's Head, and the Longs group. That's Pagoda, of course, right. I will show you this photo of Alice again in my trip report about climbing Alice from Boulder-Grand Pass, out of view. This photo shows the whole ridge that I used as my route up Alice that day.


This is the summit cairn I found on Copeland. Sandbeach Lake again. Orton, Longs, Meeker.


The whole cirque below was rarely visited when I was climbing the Park's 13ers. I usually had the place all to myself. That's my first look at Isolation Peak in the distance, center. Bluebird Lake is at bottom right. To climb Isolation, I climbed above Bluebird up that wide shoulder of Mahana Peak towards photo center. From there, I skirted Isolation Lake, just peeping over Mahana's wide shoulder, and climbed rocky terrain to the left of the lake. That final ridge line cutting right from Isolation's cliffy southeast face was my final push to the summit. The lakes above and to the left of Bluebird are first Lark Pond, then Pipit Lake. To climb Ogalalla Peak I first shirted Lark Pond and climbed the slope rising above it to reach the summit of Ouzel Peak, out of view left. Ouzel is a nice 12er. I climbed Ouzel to reach the wide tundra plateau of the Continental Divide, which I then followed to the summit of Ogalalla.


That's Ouzel Peak at the left in this photo, and the Continental Divide.


In October of 2002 I climbed Copeland for the second time. I took this photo of Ogalalla Peak, top right, its permanent glacier, and Cony Lake below. The peak beyond Ogalalla is in Indian Peaks Wilderness. Do you see why I didn't find Copeland a boring mountain to climb? What views!


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

 Comments or Questions

Another winner...
03/29/2019 11:07
It is a joy to read these - thanks for putting them up (and on my to-do list....)


Very inspiring!
03/29/2019 14:38
I kinda suck at climbing, so reading such detailed reports about €œboring€ mountains that are nonetheless a bit off the beaten path equates to inspiration to go do something that would be a suitable challenge for someone of my abilities, or lack thereof.

Plus, I did not know about fireweed€„˘s role in forest re-growth following a fire, and now I can go to bed having learned something new and interesting!


not so boring with snow
03/29/2019 19:59
I'm enjoying these reports with the old pictures (film/faded look) and stories. As I've done all the RMNP 13ers as well, it's fun to read your takes and some bonus info on nature and history - almost all of them make you work hard for the summit. Copeland was an adventure in postholing and bushwhacking in spring snow for me in the 'dry' winter of 2012 (I posted a TR also), and I didn't do the best route finding on the approach and missed the burn scar by a hundred yards or so. Plus there were snow showers that day. It has couloirs on the east face, so in spring it would be a more interesting and scenic climb, plus the views of the surrounding peaks still covered in snow.


Great stuff
03/31/2019 10:29
Appreciate these, please keep 'em coming! Another thank-you for the forest re-growth and fireweed education. Love the bit about becoming a tree-hugger too.


I'm lovin' it!
03/31/2019 11:06
Great photos and informative narrative (as usual). I especially
like photos #19, #24, and #26 which show some of my old
friends from a much different perspective than I'm used to
(that is, from the south). And photo #28, which captures
Bluebird Lake, Lark pond, and Pipit Lake is truly breathtaking
(I gotta get to those guys someday).

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